Published: November 23rd 2008November 23rd 2008
I bid my farewells to my new family in Komga. I have never felt so emotional and torn to leave so many people I love in my life. Open Arms is not just another volunteer opportunity to cross off the list. It has become my lifetime commitment to follow up on these children and do everything I can to see that they have some of the same opportunities I have had and will have. I hid my tears and said goodbye to the children with (I will see you later) singing in my mind.
Yui, Rita, Kassi and I headed to East London for one last shake and a delicious meal. I must say,the car ride to East London was one of the most painful rides of my life. I slowly eased out of my sadness and decided to live in the moment. I have a wise friend to thank for that reminder. We had a great last evening together. I finally had the chance to run into the Indian Ocean. I did handstands on the beach, skipped and eased my way over the rocks into the gentle waves. I said my farewells to Rita and Yui, and had to bite back tears once more.
I spent one last night with Kassie, my volunteer BFF from Colorado. We met up with her brother and father who flew in the Africa to spend a couple weeks with Kassie. I woke in the morning, scrambled on the shuttle to the airport and eventually stepped onto my plane. I found my seat and my heart sunk to discover I had left my camera battery charger and battery in the electrical outlet, hidden behind the bed at Open Arms. I was already filled with enough sorrow to leave my new home, but on top of that I would not be able to collect photos for the rest of my journey!
I was once again on my way to another part of the world....or so I thought. I flew from East London, South Africa to Johannesburg, South Africa with hopes to catch my connecting flight to Doha and essentially to Morocco. Well as it turns out, STA travel never gave me a ticket number. I was not in the system at all! A kind man tried to help me sort things out, but had to give up and send me to the airline office. I sat for hours, waiting for my verdict. After several more hours, I was told I had a booking confirmation and an itinerary, but had not purchased these particular tickets. Now this was all something I was oblivious to...obviously. She found me a local STA contact named Johan from Capetown. He also worked on my case day and night, trying to solve my problem. The woman at the airline desk helped me find a hotel near the airport and set me up with the shuttle schedule. I walked to the shuttle stop, with my tail in between my legs, but my hopes still high.
I opened the door to my room and almost dropped my backpack in shock. This was by far the nicest hotel room I have ever stayed in, and all to myself! the first thing I did was jump on the bed. I indulged in a 6$ sushi dinner, delivered to my room. I took a luxurious bubble bath, utilized the hotels personal fitness center, watched a movie, relaxed and slept extremely well.
I woke in the morning for breakfast. I ventured into the lobby to find a grand buffet, but was disappointed when I found it was another benefit I would have to pay money for. Shame. As I stood in line, I considered talking to the man standing behind me. Despite the age difference, I pushed myself to greet him. We hit it off instantly. We ate breakfast together and I listened to the stories of his life. Norbert was from many places, but currently resides in Munich Germany. He was kind, open minded and very friendly-we became friends. He is a mechanical engineer who travels the globe while on duty apart from spending time with his new family. I learned so many lessons while listening to his words. It was nice to get an outsiders look at America. I realized, being an ignorant American, I hardly know enough about the government and lifestyles of other countries. He told me, "Many American people have the problem of believing they are the world. This is where they fail to realize they are only one little part of it." It seems like such a simple concept, but to truly understand simple ideas and actually do something to change it is a whole new achievement. We need the world, just as the world needs us. It has been a culture shock to meet so many people who know everything about what is happening in the U.S. I feel ashamed to listen to others supportive input on our economical and government status, to realize I still know little about what is going on day to day in Africa, Germany, Israel, Egypt....so many countries. My hunger to learn is fierce.
After breakfast, I had 10 Minets before check out to decide if I would need to stay another night. I failed to get a hold on Johan, or the airlines office. I frantically tried phone number after number. I collapsed on the bed to think. I asked for guidance. I opened my address folder and Rita's card fell out. Huh...."OK" I said. I dialed the number and Rita answered right away. She informed me that they had just dropped Yui off at the airport for his flight. Really??!"I forgot Yui was heading home a couple days after my departure! It was wonderful to speak with Rita again and that call alone determined my path. I packed my bag, caught the shuttle, shuffled through long stretched of airport and only stopped to catch my breath when I had reached the arrival gate. I waited for some time. When he finally emerged from baggage claim, my heart skipped a beat to pick Yui out of the crowd. When he looked up to recognize me, I stood there playing my yellow ukulele while holding a sign with his name on it in my mouth. What a sight that must have been! We celebrated the unexpected reunion and relaxed in the food court where I explained myself over a mango smoothie (courtesy of Yui). Yui showed me photos of the children from that morning. I laughed so hard to see that the girls and Luwando had glued the tiny confetti hearts I had given them all over their faces, right before picture day! I felt as if I had spent one more morning with the children. I snapped back into reality to notice Yui pulled something out of his bag. He handed me my battery and charger and favorite T-shirt. There is no way....I thought. No way! HAHAHAA! I laughed and rejoiced!
Yui helped me find the airline office again. We spent 3-4 hours trying to figure out the problem. After waiting on hold for too long, a man from STA informed me there was nothing he could do because is supervisor was not in the office today. We found another airline ticket that would leave in 2 hours that was extremely pricey. The Airway office told me there was no way I could buy a ticket unless I waited until Monday, went into the city and bought one there from the Airway office that was closed all weekend. At last I got a hold of Johan who found me a great deal on a new ticket, booked it for me, and set me all up with a boarding pass. I will never forget hugging the airline workers and telling them I loved them. I felt so blessed to have Johan helping me for no reason, Yui right there by my side, and amazing individuals at the airport who were so kind and helpful. I skipped and sang through security all the way to my gate where I had time to relax for five hours.
The flight was great. I even slept slightly! -and the lamb dinner was scrumptious. I truly enjoy airplane food...really! When I arrived in Doha, I took my time through security and walked around aimlessly. I have over 16 hours in the airport today. I noticed a Persian man with a large camera, taking photos of strangers talking on pay phones. I was intrigued and watched him for a while. He had a unique look about him and I could tell he had a creative eye. I decided to say hello. I showed him my camera and he was pleased to find we shared the same passion. Sasha gave me his e-mail address to show me his photos. I learned he was from Iran, 27 years old, and had an undeniable love for photography. "Photo is my art. It is not my job. It is my love." We met again at a random gate. We sat together and he showed me some of his work on his computer. I was amazed. I have seen some of the most beautiful black and white photographs I have ever seen today. He told me he had won a contest for a photograph and was given a full ride to Dubai. I listened to his story as he fumbled with English but spoke pure and meaningful words. He checked his watch, he told me he would see me later and he ran off to catch his flight. His words still revolved around my thoughts. "My life is not a life. It is a photo of a lifë."
I was about to leave my post to explore the airport more, when Sasha returned to me. Sadly, he told me he had missed his flight. I tried to comfort him and I thanked him for taking his time to show me his life. I sang to him to cheer him up and let him play my ukulele. I shared some rusks with him. We conversed for hours. He told me all about Iran. He spoke of it's beauty and the truth behind the crisis in his country. He spoke of his land, his horse Hipi, his father who was killed when he was two, his love for music. He made me a CD of beautiful Persian music. He shared with me his hopes and dreams. We wandered the airport together, searching for perfect lighting and moments to capture. He showed me new technical tips and sang for me in French and Persian. He wrote words for me in my journal. He taught me to say hello and thank you as well: Salaam-Mercy. We became friends and I know I will keep in touch with Sasha. He is an outstanding artist who deserves to be discovered for his passion and work, more than any photographer I have met. He tells me it is difficult for one person to excel in Iran due to the lack of resourses and opportunity. I wish I could help him. I saw him off and am so relieved he is no longer upset about missing his flight. I do feel responsible. I could never forget such a gifted character, or his powerful words that speak such wisdom. I wish him all the best.
I decided to figure out my gate number, which was not on my ticket. I found a Qatar airways office and asked one man for help. He looked at my ticket, discovered I was alone and in the airport for too many hours and invited me to stay. I was confused until he opened a door to expose a large room with comfortable arm chairs and a fancy dining buffet. He let me stay in this first class airport wonderland for no money. He just smiled at me. Hahaa, I am so happy! I was starving, exhausted, and very sore from sleeping on the hard floor. I stand here now in a free and private computer office where I can finally write something! Ha-how comical is life?
Reflecting on the past three days of chaos, I have discovered hundreds of blessings hidden through mishaps. If my tickets had been functional, I would never have randomly met with Yui again. My battery charger would wait for my in the U.S. until my return date with my special shirt I thought was lost. I would not have had the privilege of relaxation in a luxurious room, complete with exquisite meals and extra muffins and yogurt I stalked up on for the airport. I would not have met Norbert or Sasha. I would not have met Johan who offered me his hospitality when I return to Capetown one day, and who worked out my problems for free. I would have had no free meals, opportunities, new friends, new outlooks and new life lessons. Ha-I also don't think I would have made so many stressed and bored airport employees laugh and smile at my cheerful composure during my dilemma. I could tell they were quite astonished and touched to see my smile and watch me brush off the chaos. I was really tested these past few days. I remained faithful and chose to believe things were occurring for a reason and that they would all be resolved eventually. I abide my the concept of blessings in disguise and also the quote: "It is not the trials and tribulations we endure, but our mentality through them."
I don't know what will be awaiting me in Morocco or life for that matter, but I appreciate not knowing. I am so happy now, looking back on these silly series of events and I laugh to myself for the 100th time. I have faced many challenges I have never even imagined already on this trip, but I feel I am learning so many new life lessons. This is not to say this adventure has not been one of the hardest struggles for me, but it is worth every difficult obstacle.